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But wait, there's more.
There's just no polite way to say "Buy me things", is there?
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rant is where the heart is
entry for 2000-07-06 (21:27:37)
In which our plucky young hero gets voted off the island.
Ahem. I am about to say something that will strike many people as controversial:
I think there's absolutely no chilling undertones whatsoever to Survivor and Big Brother.
Tonight, CBS doubled its dose of voyeurvision by adding a second show, Big Brother, to the already-a-megahit Survivor. Since by now everyone knows the ground rules of the voyeur genre (non-actors, no script, occasional events tossed in by show producers), the only questions left about Big Brother can be answered as follows: a house, they're never turned off, five men, five women, $500,000.
I don't particularly feel alarmed by what this says about us, or about surveillance culture. For one thing, these people are all volunteers, and they aren't alone. Nobody appears on any show like this against their will, just as nobody is forced to run a webcam. There's nothing happening here that these people didn't want to start. (I'll admit that whether they want what they end up with is the finish is still an open question.)
I also don't particularly feel that these sorts of shows make George Orwell turn over in his grave, even if the Big Brother production company has sarcastically taken his name. The theme of 1984 wasn't webcams or voyeur television: it was constant, automated, compulsory invasion of privacy. And that's not happening on these two shows, it's happening everywhere else. (Big Brother may qualify for constant, but these people are still volunteers, and I can even argue against automatic a few paragraphs down....)
We can no longer go into a store, a bank, a mall, even a parking garage without being monitored, without having a choice in the matter (beyond "don't shop there"). One of my favorite vapor statistics is that there are more surveillance cameras than people in the city of London. It's hard to believe... this year.
"But that's for good reasons!" Really? Stopping shoplifting and car theft are good, sure, even if it means monitoring every single shopper, honest and dishonest alike. But go down that slippery slope and you gotta ask yourself: who would really care if their every sentence uttered was checked against a dictionary containing "terrorism", "Libya", "sarin gas", and "President", if it stopped just one terrorist attack?
Fortunately, even if we're glued to our televisions, and other people are glued to their televisions watching us pick out mangoes, it's still not 1984 yet. We have the tools to create the data, but not to analyze it.
The core problem with the surveillance nation is that for anything beyond the most simple, crude measures of observation, you still require large numbers of thinking, trained people. Big Brother has a large support crew keeping the cameras running, listening for conversation, watching for interesting footage. If your goals in monitoring the entire population range more toward "kill the dissenters" than "prevent car theft", you've still got a few decades of bitter disappointment ahead of you. (And that's presuming that people won't be actively sabotaging your desires, of course.)
So no, George Orwell isn't spinning in his grave because of Big Brother. But if you walk to your car tonight in the parking garage, why not give a jaunty little wave to the camera? After all, you're always the star in the real surveillance nation.
(If you disagree, let me know. Send some email.)(Browse: previous or next. Notes: post or read.)
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